Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Many are unhappy with sales-tax hike

Business owners especially dislike timing of increase

By Steve Kemme
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — To many Butler County business owners, the newly approved increase in the county sales tax is as welcome as a lump of coal under their Christmas trees.

        “It's going to hurt the businesses,” said Sherry Loman, owner of Furniture Frenzy in Hamilton. “I don't think the timing is right. They ought to be doing things to help businesses right now, not bring more harm to them.”

        By a 2-1 vote on Monday, the county commissioners approved a sales tax increase that will take effect March 1, unless a voter referendum drive challenges it.

        The county sales tax will jump from 5.5 percent to 6 percent for six years and then drop to 5.75 percent for four years. Hamilton, Warren and Clermont counties have a 6 percent sales tax.

        The tax increase is expected to raise $129 million over 10 years to pay for major road projects and other improvements designed to help attract high-tech businesses with good-paying jobs.

        Commissioners Mike Fox and Chuck Furmon voted for the sales tax, while Commissioner Courtney Combs voted against. All three are Republicans.

        The tax increase angers Chuck Smith, owner of Hamilton-Fairfield Dodge Jeep in Hamilton, a self-described Republican. Higher taxes will result in people spending less money, he said.

        “Any additional cost on big-ticket items like cars is the worst medicine we could be prescribing in the current state of the economy,” Mr. Smith said. “It stinks that Republicans are doing this.”

        Noah Gibbs, owner of the Fairfield Hobby Shop, said the tax increase will damage small businesses, already suffering from the slow economy.

        “People are just not spending money right now,” he said. “This is probably the slowest Christmas I've had in 24 years. I'd like things that help spur the economy.”

        Dan Schwartz, owner of Schwartz Jewelers in Hamilton, said the tax increase comes at an especially bad time for Hamilton, which has lost more than 3,000 jobs in the past three years.

        Neither the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce nor the Southeastern Butler County Chamber of Commerce took a position on the sales tax.

        But the heads of both chambers said their members didn't have much enthusiasm for the tax increase, partly because of today's difficult economic times.

        Mel Less, president and CEO of the Greater Hamilton Chamber, said members were concerned the sales tax revenue might be used for general fund purposes and not the earmarked projects.

        “Will the commissioners feel the same way about the projects in three or four years?” Mr. Less said. “What if priorities change?”

        “It's easy to sit back and throw darts at this thing,” Mr. Furmon said. “Nobody likes taxes. But if you're going to realize any advancement for your county in the future, you have to move.”


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